What to do if you can’t afford your energy bills

If you’re struggling to pay your gas and electricity bills, don’t bury your head in the sand as there may be help available. Here’s what to do if you can’t afford your gas and electricity bills.

If you’re struggling to pay your gas and electricity bills, don’t bury your head in the sand as there may be help available. Here’s what to do if you can’t afford your gas and electricity bills.

Peter Earl
From the Energy team
minute read
Do you know someone who could benefit from this article?
Posted 6 FEBRUARY 2020

What to do if you can’t afford your energy bills

First of all, don’t panic. You’re certainly not alone. In fact, according to Ofgem, the energy market regulator, roughly a million UK customers are in debt to their energy supplier. It’s a situation the big energy firms are very much used to dealing with. 

How to go about clearing your energy debt

  • Call your energy supplier

It’s probably the last thing you want to do, but it’s far better to honest with your energy supplier about the circumstances you’ve found yourself in. They have an obligation to help you come up with a solution and, together, you should be able to work out a plan that suits you both.

You might be worried that your energy supplier will cut you off, but they’ll always try their best to avoid this. Most energy suppliers will do what they can to help you get back on your feet.

The Government offers various grants and schemes to help people who are struggling to pay their energy bills. One of these is the Winter Fuel Payment. If you were born before August 1953, you’re likely to benefit.

During winter you may also qualify for Cold Weather Payments. If you’re on certain benefits, and the weather drops below zero degrees for a period of seven consecutive days, you could receive a payment of £25 towards your energy bills, for each day it’s unseasonably cold.

And if you’re on a low-income or Pension Credit, you may qualify for the Warm Home Discount Scheme.

Grants to help pay your energy bills

Lots of the big energy providers also offer charitable grants to help those in debt. You don’t have to be a customer to be eligible – anyone can apply.

British Gas Energy Trust

EDF Energy Trust

E.on Energy Fund

nPower Energy Fund

Ovo Energy Fund

Scottish Power Hardship Fund

SSE (Southern Electric) Priority Assistance Fund Call 0800 072 8616 to see if you’re eligible.

Charities to contact if you can’t pay your energy bills

There are charities you can contact if you can’t afford to pay for your electricity or gas. These include:

Charis is a charity that helps those facing hardship.

StepChange Debt Charity offers solutions to long-term debt.

National Debtline can suggest ways to deal with your debts.

You should also contact your local Citizens Advice Bureau.

Ways to pay a gas or electricity bill you can’t afford

You may be able to pay your bill in instalments. This allows you to pay off an amount you can afford, over a set period of time. Negotiate with your energy supplier to agree terms that suit both of you.  

If you’re on benefits, you may also be able to pay your bill through the Fuel Direct Scheme. Money will then be taken directly from your benefits to cover your debt.  

If you can’t pay using either of these methods, your energy supplier may insist on installing a prepayment meter, to help you manage your energy costs going forward. 

What to do if you can’t afford to top up your prepayment meter

If you don’t have the cash to top up your prepayment meter, there are a few things you can do:

  • Call your energy supplier and ask for temporary extra credit

You’ll need to pay this back, but it can help if you have short-term money problems.

  • Ask your energy supplier to reduce your payments

If you’re already repaying a debt to your energy supplier, ask if they’re able to reduce your weekly payments.

  • See if you have the right to refuse a prepayment meter

If you have an illness or disability, your energy supplier will have to replace your prepayment meter with one that charges you for energy after you’ve used it, not before. Your energy supplier has to take into account your situation, so it’s definitely worth telling them if you:

  • are a pensioner
  • have a disability or long-term illness
  • live with young children
  • owe money on rent, or have other financial issues.

Energy debt: switching when you're in debt to your supplier

Most people assume you can’t switch energy suppliers if you’re in debt to your current supplier. But if your debt is less than £500 and you’re on a prepayment meter, this isn’t true.

And if you owe more than £500, it’s worth thinking about shopping around for a better tariff as soon as you’ve managed to get the debt down to less than £500.

Compare the Market can help you compare energy tariffs from a range of energy providers, even if you’ve had trouble paying in the past.

Issues with your energy bills

Receiving an abnormally large or inaccurate bill is one way that people fall into debt.

If you suspect that something’s gone wrong with your billing – for example, you haven’t received a bill in a while or you’re concerned you’re being overcharged for your energy, contact your energy supplier as soon as possible. If there’s a billing error and you do your best to alert your provider to it, they’ll be able to help you.

If you don’t mention you’ve not been receiving your bills, for example, your energy provider could back-bill you for an outstanding amount. So it’s always best to speak to someone.

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